Stagecoach to trial first autonomous buses
Scotland is to host the trial of the first autonomous full-sized passenger bus fleet.
Innovate UK, the government’s research and innovation body, announced £4.35million of funding to support the autonomous bus trial. A successful bid for the money was made by Stagecoach along with partners Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL), Fusion Processing, mobility services specialist ESP Group, Edinburgh Napier University and University of West of England. Of those, Stagecoach, Transport Scotland, ADL, Fusion Processing and ESP Group are to provide additional funding.
The trial is to include five autonomous single deck vehicles, which will run between Fife and Edinburgh across the Forth Road Bridge. The buses, operated by Stagecoach East Scotland, will be used autonomously to Level 4 standard, which means that a driver must remain on board during any journey in line with UK regulations.
Once complete, the 11.8m ADL Enviro200 vehicles will operate between Ferrytoll Park & Ride facility in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange. The bus will use both on-road and hard shoulder running, and will use the dedicated public transport corridor across the Forth Road Bridge that allows buses and taxis to use dedicated lanes between the M9 near Newbridge and Halbeath in Fife.
The autonomous buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 42 passengers 14 miles across the Forth Bridge to Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange. With buses every 20 minutes this could provide an estimated 10,000 weekly journeys.
Work on the project is expected to get underway during the second quarter of next year at ADL’s manufacturing depot in Guildford with the first vehicles expected to go into service during 2020.
Stagecoach, ADL and Fusion Processing announced earlier this year that work was underway to trial the first full-sized autonomous vehicle within a Stagecoach depot. Work on the vehicle is currently being carried out at ADL’s site in Guildford and the bus is expected to be ready for use at the beginning of 2019. In the short term, the bus will be used in autonomous mode only within the depot environment, to carry out movements such as parking and moving into the fuelling station and bus wash. Using self-driving vehicles within depots more widely could help improve safety, efficiency and space utilisation within the depot.
The project partners said: “We’re delighted to have been awarded this funding and we are excited to further test the potential for autonomous technology in the future within public transport using full size single deck buses, which so far has not been achieved anywhere else in the world. Drivers will still be required on all vehicles at all time while in service for passenger safety and to comply with UK legislation.”
Richard Cuerden, Academy Director for the surface transport research organisation, Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), claims this recent autonomous vehicle development is part of a revolution in how we travel. Noting other recent autonomous vehicle projects (Jaguar Land Rover’s premium mobility service and Addison Lee’s trials on increasingly complex routes in Greenwich), he claims such vehicles will open up and improve transport services for those who struggle to access both private and public transport.
Echoing these sentiments, UK Government Business Secretary, Greg Clark, said:
“Autonomous vehicles and their technology will not only revolutionise how we travel, it will open up and improve transport services for those who struggle to access both private and public transport. The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.”